June 27, 2011

Outlines - A Necessity or a Distraction

I have heard a lot of different takes on the need to prepare an outline when writing a novel. Joe Konrath has said he spends a full week preparing a 40-page outline. Robert J. Randisi, who has written over 500 novels, doesn't use them at all. M. Louisa Locke adopts a more nuanced approach.

Since I'm accustomed to a task-driven environment, I find that the outline is somewhat helpful while writing anything longer than 10,000 words. Here are 5 tips that I've found beneficial to speed up the writing process and to get my own ass in gear:

1) The Initial Brain Dump - In the last few months, every idea for a novella/novel has come to me while on my commute to work. My neighbor takes me on the back of his motorcycle every morning to the BTS station down On Nut road. For some reason, this harrowing 15-minute journey every day through Bangkok's notorious traffic really stimulates the mind. So that I don't forget what I thought about, I try to write the major theme and idea of the book, the motivation behind the protagonists, and how the story will end on my iPad as soon as possible after the commute (usually on the 10-minute Skytrain portion of the morning commute). The entire idea for a novel comes to me in about 2-3 minute bursts. Of course, every schmuck in the world has "great ideas", but it takes hard work to turn ideas into something tangible that others can enjoy.

2) Character Development - Since no one likes one-dimensional or inconsistent characters, I keep a separate Word document with all the major characters and their attributes and flaws.I list their names and qualities to maintain continuity during the writing process and indicate whether they have some kind of secret that needs to come out later in the book. Typically, I just list two traits and the characters name (e.g. one of the secondary characters a novella that I'm working on is just listed as "Intelligent, but Naive")

3) Chapter by Chapter Outline - I've heard that you shouldn't worry too much about word count and that you should write as long or as short as you need to. Unfortunately, I need clear objectives and guidelines, and I can't just get the muse in me and start writing 10,000 words a day like some writers can. Therefore, I usually lay down each chapter and what the major plot points will be for the protagonist, and I estimate what the word count should be. This gets built from the Initial Brain dump. By having a clearly defined agenda, it helps me stay on track and make steady progress.

4) Scene Setting, Metaphors, and Zingers - Once in a while, I'll have a great idea on a metaphor or a snippet of dialogue that needs to go into the piece somewhere. Since I'm a very forgetful person, I make sure to write it down into the outline.

5) Keep it Fluid - Despite the estimated word count and chapter breakdown, I try not to be too restrictive with the outline. The content of each individual chapter is pretty open, and the Chapter by Chapter Outline just lists the big ideas and tasks that the characters have to accomplish. I've found that not being too specific in the outline allows the story to flow better and be more exciting.

All in all, the outline ends up being only 2-3 pages. Now it's just a matter of finding time to turn the damn things into a real story instead of just a bunch of notes.

June 26, 2011

Making Money on Short Stories

I just finished reading Christian Cantrell's Human Legacy Project, which is 7,200 word sci-fi piece that is ranked #2,692 in the Kindle store (not bad!). The story deals with the not-so-simple question of "What is the Purpose of Human Civilization?" The fact that Cantrell has sold so many copies is truly an impressive feat and motivation for those of us who try to write short stories. My 4-star review is here if anyone is interested.

Looking at my own bibliography, perhaps I should try to incorporate some bigger picture concepts. My most recent short stories have dealt with the following:
  1. A Possessed Water Buffalo
  2. Cocaine Dealing on Sukhumvit Soi 5
  3. Crazy Guy Tries to Shoot Someone at the US Embassy in Bangkok
  4. Other Morally Depraved Tales
Perhaps I should try to class up my writing a bit to make it more marketable to a broader audience, but that would make it less fun.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch suggests you can make a decent 5-figure income a year only by writing short stories. She does a good job of explaining the history of the short story market ever since the 1950s. Nowadays, with many people expecting content for free, I feel that short stories are more of a way to build your brand name than make cash.

If you're interested in submitting some short stories to anthologies, Ralan.com maintains a great list of paying anthologies and exposure-only anthologies that aren't bullshit contest scams.

June 23, 2011

Christopher Moore in Bangkok Post

Christopher Moore has a good interview in the Bangkok Post today. In a world of grandstanding politicians and buffoonish reality TV stars, it's quite refreshing to see someone so humble. This excerpt is hilarious:
I think anyone who writes a book has a little bit of a romantic, idealistic side to them, because frankly it's not a way to live a life or make money. There has to be some kind of idealisation that drives you to do something that would make most people would feel sorry for you.
Moore also discusses how even though it's much easier to write and distribute a novel nowadays, it's actually harder to be a writer due to the difficulty of starting out. This echoes Stephen Leather's thoughts on the subject. The logic being that since it's so easy for any rube to write a manuscript, it can be difficult to get noticed in the crowd. Guess I'll just have to try harder!

June 21, 2011

Scavenger - Flash Fiction on Thailand Stories

My flash fiction submission about a garbage scavenger who makes a gruesome discovery to Microhorror was politely declined by the Editor. He said that it needed a little bit less exposition and more action. I attempted to fix it up a bit posted it on Thailand Stories here, if you're interested.

Thailand has an entire sub-culture of people who go around picking through garbage to find aluminum cans, cardboard, or anything else they can get a few baht for. You see them solemnly pushing carts down streets all the time with heaping piles of junk. I have a lot of respect for them, as it is obviously not a fun job, but shows what people must do to survive.

Asian cities can be strange places. In America, the bad neighborhoods are typically cordoned off in certain parts of the city where "you just don't go". But in most of the Asian cities I've been to, you will have high-rise condos with college-educated professionals right next to the slums. It's quite disorienting at times, but somewhat fascinating. I try to teach my kids a little bit about both worlds, and where I live in Bangkok, there's no isolation from poverty.

If you really want an interesting juxtaposition of poverty and high-society in Bangkok, check out the abandoned skyscraper Sathorn Unique.

June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day in a Bunch of Countries That are Not Thailand

Thailand celebrates Father's Day on His Majesty's birthday (December 5th). However, Father's day in many other countries is today, the third Sunday of June. While I haven't been a Dad long, the five most important things I have learned are as follows: 1) Be a good role model for your kids, 2) Don't be a deadbeat, 3) Video Games can be a good substitute for a babysitter, 4) Maintaining discipline ensures your kids won't grow up to be annoying little wieners, and 5) Being a Mom is a lot harder than being a Dad.

Here's to all the hard-working Dads out there. Keep up the good work!

June 18, 2011

A Massive Kuai Tiao Pot - Crazy Things My Wife Does

We frequently travel to the Makro on Srinagarindra Road (sort of like the Sam's Club of Thailand) to purchase all the snacks, drinks, and other junk food for our internet cafes. During one excursion, my wife thought it would be a good idea to drop 1,600THB (about $50) on a stainless steel pot used for mass producing Kuai Tiao (ก๊วยเตี๋ยว). Kuai Tiao is a tasty noodle dish often found on the street and is a lunchtime favorite of many office workers in Bangkok. You usually see these pots being manned by woman with hairnets in sidewalk stalls with plastic tables set up around them. A bowl is typically about 30THB ($1).

You place the pot over some coals and let the meat cook in there for several hours. I am never trusted to prepare any meals, so I was only assigned the menial task of heaving the pot filled with water on top of the ceramic hot plate. I'm not exactly sure why my wife thought she had to feed an army. Sure, we have a large extended family and she bought it when it was summer time for the kids (March - May). But look at the size of this thing. You could cook my 6-year old son in it:
The pot is filled with liters of boiling water on top of that wobbly ceramic hot plate. I had to keep the 6-year old from playing near it so that we didn't re-create the famous scene from Sleepaway Camp:
I've never understood some of the purchases my wife has made, and the language barrier does not help matters. Although, I have learned to not make a fuss, as some things in Thailand can never be explained.

June 13, 2011

Scary Water Buffalo and Other Absurdities

Careful now! Photo credit

If you're a genre fiction writer looking to break in by getting some short stories published in anthologies, look no further than Pill Hill Press. Based in Western Nebraska, they have a good variety of anthologies that focus on horror, sci-fi, westerns, and mysteries. The payment of 1/4 cent per word probably isn't going to be enough to save Grandma's farm, but the collections are thoroughly enjoyable and reasonably priced. Also, the covers are usually pretty kick ass.

There's a submission call for an anthology called "Trigger Reflex", which is a monster hunter anthology follow-up to Leather, Denim & Silver. Since most of the stories will undoubtedly focus on vampires and werewolves, I thought I would throw the editor for a loop and submit a piece on a water buffalo that's run amok in the rice fields of Isan (northeastern Thailand). It's being edited by my little brother, but hopefully they'll consider it on comedy value alone (in a shit economy, everyone needs a good laugh).

Having come across a few water buffalo in my day, I can tell you there is nothing too spooky about them. My wife and her friends laughed at me when asked if it would be a good horror story. So to spice things up, I threw in some pissed off spirits of the ancestors lurking in the night and a child murder. Can you blame me?

If your looking for other good places to submit works for anthologies, DL Snell's website is a good resource also.

June 11, 2011

Tourism Authority Promoting Soi Cowboy and Ladyboys

Clipped from The Nation - June 10, 2011

It's no secret that times are difficult for Thailand's tourist and MICE industry. In addition to the political crises that seem to pop up every year, the currency in Thailand (baht) has been performing strongly compared to the US dollar and Euro, which have been in the toilet for quite some time. The tourist industry in Thailand affects a lot of people across the social strata (from the owners of the 5-star hotels to the taxi drivers), so the government has invested heavily in promoting tourism through the Tourist Authority of Thailand.

The powers that be are either playing off the popularity of Hangover 2 or are very desperate for more visitors. From this ad I clipped from the Nation, they are actually pushing the brothel/ladyboy image that the Thai government has been trying to shy away from for decades. The article reads:
Infamous as it seems, the brightly neon-lit Soi Cowboy is a celebrated must-go among tourists looking for the wondrous nightlife in Bangkok. It is not as raunchy as the equally known Patpong alley in Silom, as it is open-minded and welcome to both male and female clinetele.

...but it is not hard at all to imagine seeing a middle-aged Caucasian expat walking hand-in-hand with a charming Thai ladyboy, or a Japanese young family brushing shoulders with black chador-clad women.
I don't judge the Tourist Authority for this, because, for one thing, the wife and I go to Soi Cowboy occasionally (er, Country Roads is a great place to play pool, I swear). The more important reason is that people in Thailand of all stripes need to make a living, and the decline in tourism has affected a number of people. Don't ever mess with people's ability to make money in Thailand. Therefore, I applaud the Tourist Authority's savvy marketing strategy.

However, I wonder what their colleagues in the Ministry of Culture would have to say, since they made such a big stink about some young girls going topless during Songkran. What would they have to say about the go-go bars being recognized tourist landmarks?

Also, If anyone knows what the hell "chador-clad" means, please email me.


June 9, 2011

Bangkok Noir in The Nation - June 9, 2011

Better late than never! The launch of Bangkok Noir was over two months ago, but The Nation finally got around to running a front page article in the Life section about it today. This is understandable, because Khun Suthichai probably has had his people running around all over creation covering the upcoming elections and eventual craziness that will happen in Thailand. Luckily, I've had time to read and enjoy all the stories in this collection, and it's boasts many of the heavies in the Thai writing community. 

Here's the review I put up on Amazon:
Anyone who has spent time in Thailand knows that the Tourist Authority's image of the smiling woman gracefully executing a wai with a face that has been photoshopped to make her look more white is a complete farce. These writers explore the darker and more realistic side of Bangkok that lingers in every garbage-ridden soi and in a population of 12 million people crammed together in this concrete jungle. Some of the stories of farangs cruising for bargirls and things go awry may seem a bit cliche, but these are the writers who defined the noir and thriller genre for Thailand. The writers are able to make the stories interesting and fun without resorting to dull stereotypes about Thai people and expats live in Thailand.

I thoroughly enjoyed General Vasit's story, as it is great to read a work of fiction from someone of his stature in the Royal Thai Police. The other well-known authors (Christopher Moore, Stephen Leather, Dean Barrett, Colin Piprell, Tew Bunnag) all provide some great quick reads as well.

I took it down from a 5-star to a 4-star, because I thought the price was pretty steep for an ebook. $8.95 is a lot for those of us on a Thai salary. Also, there is a formatting error (I use the Kindle app for the original iPad) and the entire Introduction is one big hyperlink. Not sure if this Apple's fault (possibly), but I've never seen this before in the other ebooks in my library.

If you want to learn more about the real Bangkok and be entertained, this is definitely worth buying.
I saw a talk with Stephen Leather, the author of one the stories, and he had some great advice for new writers. It is great that they asked General Vasit to write one of the stories. He's a pretty big deal around these parts, and his experience dealing with corruption made for a very interesting story about problems within the Royal Thai Police.

So far, there are 4 5-star reviews, my 4-star review since I'm a cheap bastard (even though a portion of the profits go to charity), and one 3-star review that I don't agree with at all. "Anonymous" claims that the book does not describe Bangkok well, but "I live in Bangkok and know this city well". There are a zillion expat assholes in this country who think they know everything about this place. The only thing I know for sure about Thailand is that no one knows everything about Thailand. The Prime Minister doesn't know what's going to happen tomorrow in this city, which is why writing and reading about it makes it so fascinating.


June 8, 2011

Dealing With Rejection as a New Writer

Everyone knows the axiom that it's better to try and fail than to not try at all. However, Nathan Bransford recently had a post about how to deal with rejection letters. Granted, I've never submitted a novel to an agent or publisher, but I was really surprised at the comments from other writers. They said when they got rejected they would do everything from gorge themselves on ice cream to getting in a drunken stupor. It's like their cat got AIDS or something.

Perhaps it's because I was a junior officer in the US submarine force that I'm accustomed to having heaps of scorn and ridicule given to me, but sometimes you have to roll with the punches. This first month in this new found activity, I've been trying to shop around some short stories and flash fiction pieces. I have received two acceptance emails (here and here) and three rejections. One of the editors was even kind enough to tell me why he thought my story was lousy. This is actually tremendously beneficial for me, because it's more helpful to get negative feedback than no feedback at all.

It might be my day job as a personal assistant creeping into my life, but I'm a total ass-kisser when I get these letters (yeah, yeah, there's not a lot of men in my profession). Here's how I have responded:

Dear xxx,

Thank you kindly for your consideration, and I look forward to seeing the future works of fiction you publish on [xxx].


Paul Salvette
http://paulsalvette.com  <---Never hurts to include the URL in your sig!
In my mind, it's the only way to be professional. I'm new at writing, but I know that being a likable and decent person always pays off in long run.

Dean Wesley Smith has a helpful and detailed post for new writers, and he advises to never stop learning and to keep at it. Besides, the worst that could happen is I end up getting zinged in Slushpile Hell.

June 6, 2011

Angry Thai Women Discuss Lazy Men

Well, Khun Siwaporn, you'll be glad to know that I no longer ignore my wife and kids through video games, but rather through the painstaking task of writing. I have tried to convince my Thai wife that this writing gig will eventually pay off, but with nary a car parked out in front of the house, I don't think she's buying it.

June 5, 2011

5 Places to Submit Short Stories About Thailand

Unless you are some kind of literary genius or annoying celebrity, your probably not going to submit your first novel to the Big 6 publishing houses and turn it into a best seller. Luckily for the rest of us, there is a smorgasbord of options to submit flash fiction and short stories to build your brand name and help improve your writing. Writer's Relief provides some guidance on getting noticed as a new writer. Occasionally, the editors of these anthologies, e-zines, and journals will be kind enough to provide some constructive criticism if they turn you down. The best website to find comprehensive listings of calls for submissions is Duotrope's Digest.

Unfortunately, Thailand is a much smaller market with English only being spoken by the expat community and the educated elite and some of the middle class. Therefore, finding an outlet for your work can leave you with some limited options. However, I have a bit of faith that the demographics of Thailand are shifting in a way that will be beneficial toward writers in the English language. More and more younger Thais are eagerly trying to learn English, and it has been noted by many Thais I have talked to that the expat (or "farang" population) is shifting from the stereotypically repulsive sex tourist to a more professional group. Although, I'm not sure how my Thai colleagues arrived at this conclusion after meeting me.

The Thailand Top 100 blogs indicates that there is a lot of international interest in the happenings of Thailand. So how do you get the word out if you have a story with a Thai flavor?

Here are some good resources I found for submitting:

1) New Asian Writing - This is an excellent literary anthology that posts short stories online as well. The stories come from readers all over Asia, but is Bangkok-based. New Asian Writing is taking submissions until November 31st, 2011 for the 2011 Anthology. When I submitted work to them, I had a reply in 15 days - not bad! The popular Thai-themed blog New Mandala has a guest post about this publication.

2) Thailand Stories - A virtual clearing house for all works fiction and non-fiction. All you have to do is register an account and start posting. It kind of gets crowded out by excerpts from published books and poorly written "My stupid Thai girlfriend from the bar" stories, but there's some gems on there if you look around. I'm also amazed at how much traffic the site gets. Many stories get >1,000 views within the day that they are published.

3) Asia Writes - An excellent aggregator for calls for submissions and job opportunities for the writer. While not Thailand-specific, you can find a lot of small press publications that are looking for work with an Asian theme (both fiction and non-fiction).

4) Freedom Fiction Journal - Based in India, they have Asian-themed speculative fiction with an edge. This is great, because there is a serious lack of genre fiction outlets for Asian writers. The stories are very interesting, and my only complaint is that they should publish more. They take submissions between 1,000 - 3,000 words.

5) Asian Literary Review - If you have an MFA, studied abroad in London, and are smarter than me (which ain't saying much), the Asian Literary Review may be right for you to submit. The availability for reading the published fiction online is a bit disappointing, but I've seen their periodical on stands at places like Asiabooks. They take submissions between 3,600 - 8,000 words.

June 2, 2011

In Defense of Street Vendors

Taken Outside Today Where I Work
Bangkok. Where else can you get a pair of mickey mouse slippers, a jailbroken iPhone, and 3 sticks of luuk chin (mystery meatball things) on your walk home from work? The street vendors that populate the sidewalks selling their cheap meals and wares are just as much of the city landscape as the towering skyscrapers above. From a consumer perspective, it's actually quite convenient, and I have to admire their dedication toward frying up a chicken in the punishing heat and humidity of the city.

Yes, struggling to walk from the On Nut BTS station to Sawngtaeo #4 on the road can be a bit frustrating after a lousy day at work. But, isn't the in your face humanity all part of living in the big city?

Not everyone agrees with me apparently, because this month's Big Chilli magazine has an article that portrays these innovative entrepreneurs as total lowlifes (The Big Chilli magazine unfortunately cannot be seen online). I picked up the magazine today, because I heard that David Lyman was going to be in it. He's a great guy, a Navy vet like me, and a "pretty big wheel down at the cracker factory" as they say. Unfortunately, it turns out he's in next month's issue.

The featured article in May's Big Chilli discusses the mafia connection with the street vendors, which is problematic, as well as how vendors dump trash all over the place. However, I would not necessarily fault the people operating these stalls for the rubbish problem, as there is never a trash can in this city when you need one. Surprisingly, they didn't mention last year's Bangkok Post article about child pornography being sold on Sukhumvit road for dramatic effect. But what I really didn't agree with is the tone of the article, which makes it seems like they should just go away.

Not to wage class war here, but if these people are kicked off the street, where will they go? Then there's the matter of all the people who are dependent on buying these low cost food and goods to get by on a daily basis. A lot of people in Bangkok don't even make $250 a month, and the fancy restaurants that cater to expats and Thai's high society sure aren't going to let them in. Sometimes you have to think about unintended consequences. Besides, if you want a city where everything is pristine and expensive, just go live in Singapore.